Breaking the Maya Code / Cracking the Maya Code

May 1st, 2010 | EVALUATION

Cracking the Maya Code is a one-hour PBS/NOVA adaptation of the two-hour feature documentary Breaking the Maya Code, based on the book of the same title by Michael D. Coe. Major funding for the project - which included website, eduational and outreach components - was provided by the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Knight Williams Research conducted a summative evaluation of Cracking the Maya Code. The evaluation examined the appeal, clarity, and educational impact of the program, focusing on educating Viewers about: The basic principles that underlie all writing systems and the importance of writing to culture. The fundamentals of the Maya writing system. The history and culture of the ancient Maya, as that history and culture is revealed in the Maya texts and inscriptions. The process by which scholars tackle and solve problems, and in particular how a dominant paradigm or scholar can encourage or stifle development, and how collaboration between creative people with different expertise and ways of thinking can lead to breakthroughs that none could have achieved on their own. The idea that the picture people construct of another culture says much about their own assumptions and needs. The evaluation questions were addressed through a two-group posttest only randomized study of recruited Viewer participants watching Cracking the Maya Code, as compared to a group of Control participants who didn't watch the program but who completed the same set of demographic and background questions and a quiz on the ancient Maya and Maya writing system. The evaluation further explored the longer-term impact of the program within a few weeks of viewing, focusing on the extent to which Viewers made personal connections with the program and discussed or engaged in any program-related activities. Viewers rated the program high for overall appeal, found the program offered a clear presentation and estimated that they learned a considerable amount from the program. The majority of Viewers (79%) indicated that the program caused them to think or feel about the ancient Maya in a new or different way. About half of the Interviewees reported that they had done something new or different as a result of seeing the program, and almost all of the Interviewees ended the interviews with additional comments and especially praise for the program. The overall lack of subgroup differences indicate that the program was well received by and successful with both males and females and with individuals of varying ages, levels of education, and occupation. The project team provided formal commentary to help readers further interpret evaluation findings, and reflections on the project history that shaped production and broadcast decisions in hopes that other producers of ISE programs can draw on this experience as they develop their own programs and, in the process, navigate the diverse constraints that can arise related to documentary program formats, learning goals, and scheduling policies.



Team Members

Valerie Knight-Williams, Evaluator, Knight Williams Research Communications
Night Fire Films, Contributor


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 0407101
Funding Amount: 676653

Related URLs
Breaking the Maya Code


Audience: Adults | Evaluators | Families | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Education and learning science | History | policy | law | Nature of science | Social science and psychology
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Summative
Environment Type: Broadcast Media | Media and Technology